Five Ingredients for Great Characters That You’re Not Using (Yet)

by ScreenCraft - updated on June 27, 2016

Film Courage sat down with several screenwriting experts and asked them how to create amazing characters. Here are their main points:

1. The Core of Character is Fear and Courage

What is the fear that cripples your protagonist in the beginning and how does he or she overcome it? Answering these questions will give you a deep basis for your plot. The fear can stem from an emotional wound that the character received before the movie starts. Overcoming the plot’s obstacles will be part of the healing process.

2. Identification Comes from Empathy, Not a Job Description

The audience does not go to the movies to see people exactly like them, but to feel emotions that they can relate to. None of us are Jedi Knights who come from a planet with two suns, yet we can relate to Luke Skywalker because his longing to get out and see the universe is a fundamental human impulse.

3. Every Character Should Have Two Objectives

They should have a public objective and a private one, an external goal and an internal dramatic need that may or may not correlate. The public objective is on the surface. It is something that everyone is aware of, and the character may even talk about it openly. The private objective is hidden. The character may not be aware of it. Han Solo is openly motivated by money, yet deep down he actually wants human connection, so in the end he comes back to help his friends in their battle with the Death Star, even when there is no profit in it.

4. Even Villains Think They’re Doing the Right Thing

To make a well-rounded villain, always ask yourself if their actions further their goals. People are very rarely evil for the sake of being evil. They are employ evil or morally bankrupt means in trying to achieve some goal.

5. The Thing You’re Embarrassed About Will Actually Make You More Empathetic

Think about your embarrassments, fears, and cringe-worthy moments. Now put those in your script. The pains you think are your own are actually universal. They make a character relatable.

The people consulted for this discussion were: Michael Hauge (Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds), Mark W. Travis (The Director’s Journey), Peter Russell (How Movies Work), John Truby (The Anatomy of Story), Steve Kaplan (The Hidden Tools of Comedy), Zoe Cassavetes (Day out of Days), Troy Devolld (Reality TV:  An Insider’s Guide to TV’s Hottest Market), Pamela Jaye Smith (The Powers of the Dark Side), and Thunder Levin (Sharknado).


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